KABUL, Afghanistan - Insurgents shot down a NATO helicopter yesterday and killed four U.S. soldiers while another coalition service member died in a roadside bombing.

The first nine days of June thus became one of the deadliest spans this year for Western troops mired in the nearly nine-year war against the Taliban insurgency.

The five were killed in volatile Helmand province, part of the Taliban's heartland in the south and a key focus of President Barack Obama's troop surge aimed at crippling the insurgency and forcing it to negotiate an end to the war. So far this month, 29 coalition troops have been killed in Afghanistan, a rate of more than three deaths a day.

Nineteen of those deaths have involved U.S. soldiers, according to icasualties.org.

The troop deaths come as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, in London, warned that the United States and its Western allies in Afghanistan will have to show signs of gaining the upper hand against militants by the end of the year or risk losing popular backing for the war.

In the attack on the helicopter, insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades to bring down the aircraft in the Sangin district of Helmand, said provincial spokesman Daud Ahmadi.

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